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The Tholian Web

It's hard to get too worked up about this episode one way or the other. It appears to have been written for two purposes: to give Shatner a break, and to include the idea of the Tholian web. In fact, the story appears to have evolved around the need to include the visual.

The visual is certainly stunning, but the device is ultimately impotent as the Enterprise is thrown clear of it in a deus ex machina moment (which closely follows another: the antidote potion). So, even though the effect serves as the namesake for the episode, it is of virtually no consequence. In fact, there are so many jeopardies in progress that you simply need to pick your favorite: the alternate space will reappear only at certain times; Kirk's oxygen is about to run out; the crew is going crazy; the web is nearing completion; Spock and McCoy are about to kill each other. It's pretty serious overkill. One can easily feel sorry for Spock in his first command (which it actually isn't -- a sure sign of novice Trek writers).

In fact, beyond the visual effect, about the only thing that works in this episode is the Spock/McCoy story. The two characters are often at each other's throats, but they usually have Kirk as a buffer. Getting Kirk out of the way allows the simmering resentments to almost boil over. I've never believed that these characters hate each other as much as some of the writers think. When their banter is light, it rings true. When it gets heavy, which it definitely does here, it's hit and miss.

Where it hits best is in the captain's quarters as they begin to go through his things. Their animosity is palpable, but simmering rather than boiling. This is so much more satisfactory than, say, in the chapel where Spock and McCoy essentially berate each other in front of a gathering of the crew. This isn't believable because it simply would never happen. We've long known that Starfleet has protocols, and our characters follow them. McCoy's harsh comments ("I would like to remedy that situation.") are contrary to what we know about how these characters behave in a crisis. Sure, it's possible that they would lose their tempers, but more likely they would rally around each other ("The Empath"). The writing here shows some lack of understanding of who our characters have become over the course of the series. If anything, Spock and McCoy went through a period of animosity, and then it passed. The writers here don't seem to know that.

Once again one of the writers (Chet Richards) is a mystery. Fontana is known to have used "Michael Richards," although there is no reason to believe she was involved with this. But the mish-mash of story ideas here seems to be very fertile ground for a pseudonym.

Ultimately, the character interaction which is part of this episode cannot balance against a rather dumb sci-fi plot (which also has the indignity of needing space suits -- a Trek no-no). It bumps along until the inevitable moment when Kirk is saved, the ship escapes, everybody drinks the Kool-Aid, and we move on to another tale hoping for something better.

Rating: Middle Lower (5)


Chet Richards was not a professional writer - he was the husband of writer Judy Burns, who penned this episode. This is his only writing credit up to date. Burns herself was not a pro at that time, The Tholian Web was one of her first sales to television. Later she went on to become a professional television writer and producer. (They both have nothing to do with D.C. Fontana.)

Posted October 24, 2010 08:39 AM by John Wayne's eyepatch